Washougal budget discussions continue

Council vote could occur Monday

Several issues regarding the 2013 proposed budget for the City of Washougal received attention from proponents and opponents on the City Council.

Councilman Dave Shoemaker said during the council workshop last night he is not in favor of a $500,000 property acquisition fund. It is an idea put forth by Mayor Sean Guard to use reserves for the purchase of properties in the downtown core. The properties would be developed as parks or public parking.

Specific property transactions would require council approval.

“Developers are asking what the city will do, to help with the momentum of Main Street,” Guard said. “The $500,000 can be pulled back to reserves [if needed]. It would not be a spending account.”

Shoemaker said providing parking is a function of developers and property owners, and parks are paid for with park impact fees.

Councilwoman Connie Jo Freeman said she would be OK with helping investors for parking, but not necessarily parks.

Guard is also proposing a “fee holiday” for 2013. It would eliminate most of the fees for commercial and mixed use development. Traffic impact fees and utility system development charges would remain.

“We all campaigned on less fees and being business friendly,” Freeman said. “We are willing to work with businesses.”

Since the proposal could cost the city $70,000 in lost revenue, Guard is suggesting $70,000 of unrestricted and unallocated reserves be used to offset the loss.

Shoemaker said he likes the fee holiday, but he would not be in favor of it if it involves the use of reserves.

“Reserves are for emergencies,” he said.

With the inclusion of those projects, the city would have a reserve balance of $2.9 million. That is 26 percent of the operating expenses. Council policy requires reserves of 16 percent of the operating budget be restricted for internal cash flow purposes.

Shoemaker gave credit to Guard and the city’s administrative staff for doing “a great job, managing funds.”

Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay said, “Taxes are to be used, and reserves are a prudent business procedure.”

The $36.1 million proposed budget includes a new fund of $95,000 to help low income residents pay their city utility bills.

Shoemaker said he had previously experienced economic challenges, but he figured out how to pay his bills.

“It’s not the place of government to help people pay their bills,” he said. “The city does not belong in the charity business.”

The council could vote on the budget during the next regular meeting Monday, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.